The lifting of a 35-year movie theater ban led to the screening of one of 2017's most critically reviled films
Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

To celebrate the lifting of a 35-year-old ban on cinemas, Saudi Arabia selected one of the most critically despised films of 2017 for its first public screening.

The Emoji Movie screened in a makeshift theater in the Islamic Kingdom on Sunday evening, according to Reuters, while plans get underway to install permanent movie theaters as early as spring. The government is for now approving popular animated children’s fare, but hopes to “open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030” as a robust economic driver. (Films will remain censored in accordance with the country’s “moral values.”)

Under pressure from conservative Islamists, Saudi Arabia formally banned movie theaters in the early 1980s, forcing residents to travel elsewhere for cinematic experiences. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led various reforms, including lifting the ban, to ease some of the economic and cultural restrictions placed upon the country.

Despite its star-studded cast, The Emoji Movie scored a paltry 9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and the critical aggregation site Metacritic named it the “official worst movie of 2017.” In his EW review, Darren Franich gave the movie and ‘F’ grade and likened the viewing experience to “staring into an existential abyss.”

Nonetheless, per Reuters, residents of Saudi Arabia are excited to see The Emoji Movie and whatever comes next.

“I want to see everything because it is something new for Saudi,” 30-year-old Ibtisam Abu Talib told Reuters. “I hope everything is available: action, romance, children’s films, comedy. Everything, God willing.”

The Emoji Movie
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